Midlands reporter Reg Harcourt, who was the only TV journalist present for Enoch Powell’s infamous “rivers of blood” speech, has died aged 88.
Harcourt started his TV career in the late 1950s with ATV Midlands – the forerunner of today’s ITV News Central – after spending time at the Nottingham Evening Post, the now-defunct Evening Despatch in Birmingham and Caters News Agency.
He was the first journalist to read the news on ATV bulletins with ATV Midlands and he became a regular presenter/interviewer with the launch of ATV Today, specialising in crime and industry.
He then turned his attention to politics, becoming programme editor and presenter of the regional Left Right and Centre and Central Lobby political programmes. Later he became Central’s political editor dividing his time between Westminster and Birmingham.
Paying tribute to “a pillar of regional television” ITV News Central presenter Bob Warman said: “Reg’s television news career was long and distinguished. When I arrived at ATV Today in 1973, he was a very established reporter and presenter and he taught me much of my craft.
“He was in at the beginning – he’d interviewed all the big names of the day from politics to show-business, and he was equally adept at overcoming some of the pitfalls of live studio programming, of which there were many in the early days.”
Warman, who is president of Birmingham Press Club where Harcourt was a member for almost 60 years, added: “Long after retirement he and his wife Annie took an active part in the social life of the Birmingham Press Club where they were a popular couple. He always took great delight in recalling times which were filled with laughter.”
Ex-Birmingham Evening Mail deputy editor Tony Dickens described Harcourt as a “true gentleman-journalist.”
In an interview with Birmingham Mail entertainments editor Graham Young after his retirement, Harcourt recalled some of the highlights of his career, including being the only TV journalist in attendance when MP Enoch Powell gave his “rivers of blood” speech in 1968.
He recalled: “My editor, Bob Gillman, had received a copy of the speech Enoch was going to make at the Midland Hotel. Both of us realised it was going to be a special day.
“It was a Saturday and I was the only TV journalist there. There was still no regional evening news on a Saturday so my report was shipped to ITN.”
“Listening to Enoch speaking, the language he used was riveting. I managed to find out that the next day he would be at a riding school near Wolverhampton with his two daughters. So, we turned up and interviewed him again and asked him: ‘Why did you do it?’
“From then on, he always remembered me.”
Harcourt’s road to becoming a political editor began while covering the regular Midlands’ car industry strikes.
“You had to win the trust of conveners like Dick Etheridge and Derek Robinson,” he said. “They weren’t anti-media in those days and, if you could get on with them, you would know what they were up to.
“I naturally took an independent view but in those days you got more out of the unions than the management. And from there I ended up going to party political conferences and hosting programmes like Midland Member, Central Lobby, It’s Your Shout and Central Weekend with Sue Jay and Andy Craig.”
Reg interviewed Margaret Thatcher twice, bravely telling her the first time that her answers had been “too long” when she tried to cut him off after ten minutes.
But he said his “worst interview ever” was with Spike Milligan, who insisted on eating his way through a packet of peanuts while being interviewed on camera at Wolverhampton’s Grand Theatre.
“Well you have to eat. And this is how I eat… so that I can afford to hand out peanuts to drunken bums like you,” he said to Harcourt.
Born in East Dulwich, Harcourt died on 12 January at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham.
He is survived by his widow, Annie, a former Birmingham Evening Mail reporter, his daughter Jennifer, son-in-law James and grandchildren William, two, and five-month-old Oliver.
Picture: Birmingham Press Club